After almost eight months of waiting, it’s finally time to see exactly what the UCSB men’s basketball squad is capable of this year.
A week after being anointed the near-unanimous preseason favorite to win the Big West crown, the Gauchos will hit the Thunderdome for the first time in an exhibition with Cal State Dominguez Hills. Tonight’s game will be the sole exhibition game for the squad, which begins its regular season next weekend at the Basketball Travelers Classic in Stanford.
While the game won’t count in the standings, it will certainly give Gaucho fans an early look at some new players as well as some old ones who have improved their games over the summer. Last year’s revelation was senior guard Alex Harris, who showed a much-improved offensive game and a newfound sense of confidence and leadership on the floor. Harris went on to finish 11th in the nation in scoring with 21.1 points per game, also finishing with the third highest single season scoring total in school history. With other teams likely to key on him defensively, Harris knows that he’ll need to contribute in other ways rather than just in the scoring column.
“I think the two biggest challenges are going to be to play defense on the opponent’s best player for 40 minutes and also to help my teammates get involved,” Harris said. “Those are the things that don’t come that easy, so I need to stay focused on those.”
If Harris can build on his stats from last season, he’ll graduate at the end of the year with his name plastered throughout the Gaucho record books. He enters the year 618 points away from the school record, and he’s likely to challenge the records for free throws and three-pointers made in a career.
Junior forward Chris Devine has averaged double figures in scoring for each of his two seasons as a starter, and he enters this season as a preseason pick to make his third consecutive all-conference team. Senior forward Ivan Elliott will round out the frontcourt, and big things are expected from a player whom coaches and teammates are raving about.
The backcourt duo of sophomores Justin Joyner and James Powell will return, although Joyner is likely to miss tonight’s game due to a sore wrist. Backing up both guard positions will be junior transfer D.J. Posley, who was an Honorable Mention Junior College All-American last season. Posley won’t be the only fresh face on the floor, however, since senior forward Nedim Pajevic will make his long-awaited UCSB debut after redshirting last season. While Pajevic is sure to become a crowd favorite – especially if he keeps sporting his mustache – it is his skills on the floor that have the coaches salivating.
“When he’s focused and he’s playing the way he’s capable of, he gives us a physical presence down low that we haven’t had,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “He’s highly skilled, he steps out and shoots the three, and he passes the ball exceptionally well. He’s a really nice addition. To bring a guy like that into the rotation is going to be really valuable.”